Meet Gatsby focuses in on geolocation technology to provide a mobile and spontaneous meet up experience.
As isolated systems have a propensity toward increased entropy, it should come as no surprise that online social networks are seeping away from desk-moored terminals and into widely-dispersed mobile devices. Among those most closely acquainted with the surprising consequences of this migration are developers of location-based social networking services, such as Gabe Smedresman of Meet Gatsby.
Back in March 2010, we introduced Meet Gatsby as a virtual assistant service that combines personal interests with location-based Foursquare data to introduce nearby strangers. Over the past 19 months, Gatsby has added Facebook to is repertoire and made its debut in app form.
In the following interview, Gatsby co-founder Gabe Smedresman reveals the mobile app’s roots, purpose, and evolution–details indicative of interesting trends that may permanently alter the future of social networking.
What inspired you to create Meet Gatsby? What do you hope people will get out of it?
The foremost inspiration for Meet Gatsby was a service launched by OKCupid back around 2007 called Crazy Blind Date. Basically, you told Crazy Blind Date where you were going to be that day, whether you’d prefer to meet in a bar or cafe, and how far you can travel on short notice. If one day somebody compatible with you were to cross paths with you, Crazy Blind Date would send you a text saying, would you like to meet Ashley at House of Shields….in 20 minutes!? I’d never used an online dating service before, but if I did go on a date through one, this is the way I’d want to do it. CBD was before its time, and never made it in a major way. The real trigger for us to build Gatsby was foursquare and the iPhone. What we realized was that with a thin layer on top of the location-aware hardware (the phones) and social network (foursquare), we could build those magical moments that I’d most hoped for in Crazy Blind Date. And thus Gatsby was born!
Many argue that modern social networks reduce in-person interaction and engagement. Do you agree with that sentiment? Is Meet Gatsby meant to serve as an antidote to anonymous online interaction?
I do think that online social networks are best at maintaining shallow relationships — ones where keeping up-to-date with photos and status updates suffices to feel appropriately in touch. All that time spent online in general definitely pulls us away from our deeper relationships and face-to-face time. Also smartphones in general do pull us away from engagement with the real world and the people and places around us, often with updates from people or events bearing much less meaning.
In contrast, Gatsby is meant to create deep, authentic connections and enrich your life in the real world. We try to cut through the posing and superficiality of online profiles and get at the unique shared experiences shared by each match. Gatsby matches do include chat, but primarily for the purpose of gauging your affinity and finding out if you’d like to meet in person.
How do you intend to change the world of place-based social networking? Where do you think it needs to go next?
Science fiction writer William Gibson is quoted as saying “The future is here — it’s just not yet very evenly distributed.” I think that’s the case with location-based social networking. We’re just starting to see the glimmers of new ways that these applications can make our lives richer, but many of the benefits are still restricted to early adopters with expensive phones. The more accessible the underlying technology is, the more transformative the new social interactions they enable will be.
Do you know of any instances in which people have used Meet Gatsby in unexpected ways?
One of the biggest surprises we’ve seen is that there’s much higher engagement in matches where the pairing appears to have met in person at least once, as opposed to completely new introductions. It reinforces the power of meeting in person in forming relationships, and has also led us to reconceptualize Gatsby’s services as building on weak relationships in addition to creating completely new ones.
What is the biggest hurdle you’ve faced since launching Meet Gatsby? Are people hesitant to chat with strangers? Or too busy? Or too unfamiliar with the concept of location based apps? How do you intend to overcome this issue?
Fortunately, pretty much everyone who signs up for Gatsby knows what they’re in for, so a decent percentage of our members are up for chatting with their matches. Our biggest hurdle has been closing the loop from chatting on the phone to meeting in person — creating those incredible experiences in the real world that make people say “Wow, thanks Gatsby!” We have a long way to go before we start sparking small world moments at scale, and a lot of that’s going to be starting small, concentrating on creating positive experiences in the real world, and making the magic happen day by day.
As it stands, place-based apps are utilized by a relatively limited number of people. Do you ever find yourself thinking about specific demographics, industries, or groups that could benefit from the technology? Who are they and how could localized networking services improve their lives or work?
We’ve had very positive response from groups that have a community of followers, fans or members that benefit from being connected to each other, such as alumni groups, arts organizations and museums, and bands. These groups spend a lot of time and money organizing events for their membership to meet up, yet reach only a small portion of their potential audience. By connecting the members of these groups to each other wherever they go, Gatsby’s reaching the members that don’t make it out to organized meetups. He’s reinforcing group cohesion pervasively and constantly.
More generally, any venue, event, or conference where people come with an intent to meet new people could be augmented by a mobile service that supports that intent. There’s so much information waiting to be used, and at the moment we generally rely on random shuffling and proximity to determine who we meet. Technology can help us do much better than that.
The realm of location-based social networking is evolving very quickly. What do you imagine it will be like (roughly speaking) five years from now?
Mobile phones have I think been the frontier of pervasive computing, and I think it’s an absolute certainty that in five years or less, mobile services that help us unlock the social potential around us will be in many of our pockets. But some of the more interesting possibilities come in when the architecture around us starts bearing embedded computers, when the buildings themselves respond to us, interface with our devices and profiles, and help us, on an individual basis, make the most of our surroundings and context. As technology gets cheaper, we’ll find new places to put it, and even the cloth, brick and concrete that surrounds us will become active participants in our day-to-day lives.